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Hangca Abstract As a child, I never experienced a lot of active engagement in school and did my work because I knew it needed to get done in order for me to succeed. As a teacher, I struggled with effectively planning and constructing meaningful learning tasks for my students who struggled with being intrinsically motivated, motivated without needing rewards, to complete tasks. Using research on intrinsic motivation to guide it, this study focuses on how to effectively facilitate independent study projects in the classroom. I designed a series of three separate independent study projects for my fourth grade students to complete over the course of eight weeks. I found how difficult it is to plan for independent study projects because my students had a lot of difficulties in completing their projects. This suggests the importance of careful teacher planning and scaffolding the independent project completion process for students, aside from allowing for students to make choices and fulfill their needs for autonomy and competence in the classroom. Context and Rationale [Edited] The classroom behavior during IWT frustrated me greatly because I provided students time to work on their own without my interference, but they acted out despite this. Were my students being so overwhelmingly disrespectful to each other and to me on purpose? Or were the activities I provided them not engaging enough? Was it my providing the activities that spawned the problem? Whatever the case, I knew I needed to take a different approach to IWT, because my students were not responding positively to the tasks. They needed to be forcibly motivated to complete their IWT tasks. My goal as a teacher was not to force kids to do things they didn’t want to do, so I knew either the tasks I was giving my students needed to be different or my approach to IWT needed to change. I wanted to learn how to implement independent learning tasks, specifically independent study projects, for my students. My philosophy of education served as my guide to form the groundwork of my inquiry. I chose independent study projects and designed them to create active participants and dissuade passivity in my students. The students chose topics because they need to be able to form their own opinions about the subject matter we learn about. They need not rely solely upon my input, Fourth Grade
with the goal of creating more critically thinking individuals in mind. The projects. 1987. students take information they gather and apply it to a variety of contexts. was to foster an environment for independent learners to work. I served as a guide to provide structure for the projects and encouragement to help validate their thinking. avoid procrastination. asking more questions and coming up with in-depth responses. incorporated ideas from my personal philosophy. self-manage. Independent learners are students who “self-motivate. With the projects. My hope was for students to develop passion about their topics. to increase their motivation. [Edited] Guiding Studies Independent Learning One of my goals. allowing them to view the subject matter through multiple perspectives. To support the students’ transformation into thinking more critically. Students were to assume the roles of researchers in every project as well as historians and either biographers or scientists. understand that learning takes . The first place I looked for direction was the theories and research about effective ways to develop independent tasks and get students intrinsically motivated to complete them. process of education that stimulates greater thoughtfulness and reflection and promotes the continuing growth of students’ capabilities and powers” (Kesten. and self-appraise. persevere despite distractions. lifelong. stay on task despite setbacks. as evident by my previous experiences with my class. using internet websites and books as their primary resource. not the standard textbooks the students were overwhelmingly familiar with. but I was no means an expert and I needed guidance.Nicholas Jason Hangca Page 2 of 15 Academic Writing Sample from “Facilitating Independent Study Projects in the Classroom” but rather take initiative and look beyond what is found on the surface of a text. Independent learning is part of “an ongoing. 1). p. They consulted multiple sources to find information about their topics.
7). 2). 2006. acquiring these characteristics are not easy for them or me. Modeling once is not sufficient to allow students to become independent enough to complete their tasks. 7). I need to design tasks geared toward bringing students to increased independence and self-management through “tiered tasks” . If I allow my assumptions to interfere with the tasks I set up. p. As a teacher. Giving students busy work does not translate well to independent learners. Even though I play a crucial role in modeling. and need minimal reminders and prompts to reach their goals” (Murdoch & Wilson. Repeated modeling needs to occur “until the student can do the activity without cues from the teacher. My assumptions about my students need to change to view them as capable of “assuming some responsibility. and I have seen its negative effects in my classroom. provide practice. and managing choice and time” (p. 7). finally. I need to “let go” and retreat to the “ubiquitous role of ‘guide on the side’” (Murdoch & Wilson. 1987. The transferring of responsibility occurs by the teacher “showing students how. Transferring of control is vital to the success of developing independent learners. have students structure activities. have them use the activities independently” (p. there are some practices I can implement to assist me in achieving this goal. Since my students are only fourth graders. 2). p. Teaching and modeling independent learning skills is a necessity since independent learning is a gradual process. p. since it leads to “students discovering how their efforts can affect their learning” and from it they “acquire motivation to continue learning” (p. as their teacher. I have to step aside and allow the students to take their proper role in becoming independent learners. and gradually takes over the actions” (Kesten. 2006. A teacher needs to model and allow students to practice the learning skills.Nicholas Jason Hangca Page 3 of 15 Academic Writing Sample from “Facilitating Independent Study Projects in the Classroom” time. making decisions. it will negatively affect my students’ performance. However. 2).
self-confidence. 1987. a clear indication how the students view teacher- . 4). A majority of my class responded in their surveys by claiming their favorite part of IWT was the “May-Dos” because they were fun. The same students responded to the survey saying the least favorite part of their day was when they had to complete “a lot of Must Dos”. many liked the idea of IWT and working by themselves in a quiet atmosphere because it broke away from the whole-class instruction the students had grown accustomed to receiving all-day. To produce an environment that is “sensitive.” –Julie Independent study projects needed to be introduced into my classroom as an alternative to the whole-group instruction and boring IWT routines they were used to. everyday. 3). Creating independent learners in my classroom requires “time. I need to set up relevant stimuli within my classroom to encourage my students in completing their projects. Analysis/Findings “My least favorite part of IWT is when [we] do Must Do. The learning environment needs to be set up to create a “supportive environment that encourages students’ motivation. If I create independent study projects the students hate. because of its importance for facilitating learning (p. everyday interactions. I need to know they hate them and alter the projects and accommodate my students accordingly. 5). and journal entries. III. On the other hand. p. and support” as well as careful planning and will prove to be a challenge for me. and many became frustrated because of the way some students chose to behave during this time. and they could dictate what they wanted to finish for the day. The majority of my class grew weary of the same IWT routine. flexible and responsive to the learners’ needs. A final role for the teacher is to “[determine] learning objectives and [monitor] individual progress”. curiosity and desire to learn” (Kesten.” I have to find out what my students’ needs are through surveys. patience.Nicholas Jason Hangca Page 4 of 15 Academic Writing Sample from “Facilitating Independent Study Projects in the Classroom” (p.
I was naïve to think. mentioned the work during IWT was “sometimes easy”. and the assignment could match each student’s academic level. I should have known my job was very important to the success of my students completing their projects. based on the research.Nicholas Jason Hangca Page 5 of 15 Academic Writing Sample from “Facilitating Independent Study Projects in the Classroom” dictated assignments as tedious and overwhelming. In transitioning from primarily whole-class. If my students struggled. despite what the research clearly stated I had to do. Independent study projects came along at the right time to provide my students with an opportunity to complete an independent assignment. I . if I neglected to perform my job along the way. which allowed them to make choices. Based on multiple research sources on independent learning. I wanted and thought it was best to minimize my presence in the classroom. Erroneous Assumptions At the beginning of the inquiry process. My high-achieving student. that choice alone would intrinsically motivate my students. work at their own pace. I failed to understand how complex of a role I would play in my classroom during the independent study projects. as well as reflected on what I did as a teacher of independent study projects. it did not matter whether or not my students had a choice in their survival topic. I made many fatal assumptions about my role as a teacher. I thought by putting a lot of planning into the projects and designing them with many different components. Gabriela. teacher-dominated instruction to independent study projects. When I went back and analyzed what my students were able to do. since my class was composed of a wide variety of ability and linguistic abilities. I hoped they would figure out what to do from the brief modeling I did at the beginning of IWT each day. After five weeks of completing their picture books. I found many themes emerging. my students would have so much to do and they would not need me.
or they were researching their own topic by looking at videos and pictures. but ultimately. even though they might not have been one hundred percent clear how to create one.Nicholas Jason Hangca Page 6 of 15 Academic Writing Sample from “Facilitating Independent Study Projects in the Classroom” would be the “guide on the side” Murdoch and Wilson (2006) spoke about. as my classroom erupted into the same chaotic state during the IWT must-dos and may-dos. What ended up happening reinforced what the research said and I had to make up for making faulty assumptions. During the first five weeks of inquiry. I attributed this lack of productivity to lack of structure. it was extremely difficult to judge whether the students felt more intrinsically motivated to complete their picture books. Despite their intrigue in their topics. Eight students either turned in a picture book with a colorful cover but a blank inside or nothing at all. The students. but my role turned out to be much greater than I anticipated since I failed to do the job they spoke of prior to becoming the guide. . but some had little to show for it (See Appendix D). and it was obvious I did not set up the task properly to optimize their learning. most students were not able to complete their research in the computer lab because they spent their time either researching several topics. Too Little Structure My students spent four full weeks working on a project. ignoring the research questions they needed to answer about their topic. there to provide support and encouragement. My students needed to be more driven to complete their work. they needed to have a desire to complete it. had no difficulty completing a picture book. I noticed my students were pretty captivated as they researched their survival topics. I found it difficult to motivate and inspire my unproductive students to finish their work. but I felt their captivation had more to do with using the computers than the project itself. who were used to finishing every assignment without asking questions.
Since I was trying to get my students motivated to complete their tasks. Because of the lack of a daily accountability assessment and ambiguity in the research goals for the day. I attempted to end every IWT period with a whole-class and partner discussion of successes and challenges. the research log kept track of the progress my students made each day and served to keep several students on task. Most students had never used a log to keep track of their work before. . using principles from metacognition. If some of the students could use this to become cognitively aware of the progress they were making. which caused some confusion for them. to make them feel like they are being held accountable for what they are doing. I did not use the relative success of the research log to assist me for the next four weeks with the picture book projects. Unfortunately.Nicholas Jason Hangca Page 7 of 15 Academic Writing Sample from “Facilitating Independent Study Projects in the Classroom” In my early stages of planning for the picture book project. I provided a research log for my students as they worked in the computer lab the very first week to keep track of the websites they visited. p. I needed to recognize “rewards [and punishments] are not particularly effective at getting or keeping students motivated…to learn” and are “less successful than giving students more choice” (Kohn. 1993. On the other hand. but it was difficult to start up and maintain very late into my mistakes. used his research log for every website he found and was very thorough in what he wrote down (See Appendix E). reminiscent of early IWT days. Benji. Not having a daily accountability measure was a critical error I made. which worked against me even more.google.com). my classroom erupted into chaos. an ELD 4 student. and punishing those who did not. He wrote down the website he found his information from (www. 226). I tried to overcome this difficulty through rewarding those students who accomplished my goals for them. followed by the information he pulled out from each site he used to answer his research questions. who struggled on a daily basis in comprehending my instructions. I had to provide this for every project I gave them from now on.
. Explaining their daily research goal and reading my sample page did not yield results on their own. and their project’s end product. students struggled to come up with their own story about their natural disaster. it would not be clear for my students. My structure was unclear. and Roll by Franklin M. Since this project was complicated. Despite reading an example of a picture book about a natural disaster in the story Flash. I needed to guide my students through the process. for teacher or students. natural disaster or important person. the format of the picture book differed based on the general topic chosen. I did not foresee a lot of the difficulties my students would struggle with. My main difficulty started from a lack of consistency in format. it was too late. If every part was not clear to me. preventing as much frustration as possible.Nicholas Jason Hangca Page 8 of 15 Academic Writing Sample from “Facilitating Independent Study Projects in the Classroom” which I was able to use in helping me plan for the next projects and for anything I asked from my students in the future. Unfortunately. because of my lack of preparation with the entire project. and by the time I realized it. I did not foresee the problems my students would encounter on their journey to finishing their picture books. Rumble. out of order. Simply providing a model does not constitute modeling. expectations for the students. A biography and informational story on a scientific phenomenon are written in two distinct formats. Crash. nor did I break down and model the process of creating a picture book page enough. they would stop asking questions and give up. If the students were too confused. Projects are not meant to be frustrating. Branley and providing my own model. Although I asked all of the students to create a picture book. Making a model means nothing to students if it is not accompanied with a logical and systematic explanation.
but they did not connect personally with their projects. one of my more creative writers. Toward the project’s completion. None of them thought it was necessarily boring. I avoided trying to accomplish too much in a day. because of the consistency of format between internet information print-out. I introduced a checklist of project completion for this in-class project. as I learned from my previous struggles. I realized my students felt good about finishing their projects. and providing for the more positive classroom environment I mentioned earlier. but it was not an exciting and memorable educational experience. which was often what I did when I taught. one-word responses like “church” and “museum”. despite being encouraged to write complete sentences with details (See Appendix G). Laura. since this metacognitive process is essential to their sense of competency. and checklist. It gave them a feeling of accomplishment and competency. the students easily kept track of their progress everyday. I made my research goal for the day a lot clearer for students to eliminate the ambiguities in instruction from the first project. Not one of my students claimed the flipbook as their favorite project. As expected. this over-structuring took the fun out of the project for my students. Her short responses with no elaboration indicated how she and several other students were not able to creatively express themselves within the narrow confines of the flipbook project. Unfortunately. research questions. gave lackluster. Students needed to know what they were expected to do with every project or assignment given to them.Nicholas Jason Hangca Page 9 of 15 Academic Writing Sample from “Facilitating Independent Study Projects in the Classroom” Too Much Structure I attempted to overcompensate my lack of structure by making the flipbook very systematic and procedural. flipbook pages. They were merely restating . so students had some awareness of the progress or lack of progress they were making (See Appendix F). I needed to ensure everyday allowed students to reflect on their progress. fulfilling those needs.
While the students still viewed the picture books and flipbooks as having too many requirements based on what “I wanted”.Nicholas Jason Hangca Page 10 of 15 Academic Writing Sample from “Facilitating Independent Study Projects in the Classroom” answers they found through their research. Not one of my students elected to add anything more to their project. With too much structure. claimed the diorama was their favorite project was because it allowed them to spend “more time with [their] family. Bridging a Home-to-School Connection The diorama also brought into light the effectiveness of students being able to make a personal connection to what they are doing in the classroom. I gave them initial guidelines (see Appendix H). There needs to be some sort of balance between too much and too little structure. the mission dioramas allowed them to feel more in control of the project’s destiny. but was not there to oversee every part of the project’s completion. p. I needed to “help students achieve success quickly. the fun is lost in education. My students began their independent study projects by experiencing a lot of turmoil over minimal results with the picture books. which indicated how they wanted it to be over and forgotten.” Being able to work with their families over something educational was not something many of my students experienced in their schooling. Although students need challenging work in order to learn. One reason. They then experienced little turmoil with completed flipbooks. Most . The diorama provided them with flexible structure. but were left with a low level of satisfaction for their results. When scaffolding a process such as this. cited by several students. frustration and a ‘cycle of failure’ may set in quickly if students do not experience frequent success” (Larkin. 1). 2002. I tried to enhance this by allowing students to draw pictures to represent the ideas they wrote about.
they did not spend much time together. He turned in his mission over a week late. like Jose. The reason many of my students. I felt so proud of what he and his family were able to accomplish. Even though his mission was filled with cartoon characters. but never had I seen his family flock together like they did over completing a mission project. on the . When Antonio finally asked his family for assistance. and when their parents came home from work. It was a bible with an image of la Virgen de Guadalupe over it. When he arrived at school the morning the project was due with his sister. Jose received a lot of support at home. they were both still gluing on animals and various shrubbery. one of which. His family also had visited missions in Mexico before he was born. I met with his mom and sister separately about his progress. but he did not find this out until he probed his family. he gained access to a wealth of information to create his mission.Nicholas Jason Hangca Page 11 of 15 Academic Writing Sample from “Facilitating Independent Study Projects in the Classroom” students told me it was rare anyone was home. and both were situations where they came to me asking about the project. since he had many older siblings and parents at home to help him. Antonio was another student whose family became involved in his mission project. and kept telling me how he was lacking the resources to create his project. I provided him with many resources and told him to ask his family to assist him. he included inside of his cornhusk mission walls. Jose explained to me how his family had visited missions in Mexico and brought back many souvenirs. One example of a student who made a home to school connection was Jose. and he utilized his funds of knowledge from home to become more closely invested in his mission. invested so much of their time and energy on this project was because they were able to make a connection between what they were learning in school and with first-hand knowledge or information they received from family members.
Forging a Personal Connection My students were not only able to make connections at home with the material they were learning in school. The dioramas accomplished what I set out to do with my students in making meaningful and lasting educational memories. Students. they gained a deeper foundation for the subject matter. like Harold. On one cloudy day. as we were on our way out to lunch. When my students applied what they learned in the classroom to an experience outside of the school setting. dad. but could also apply what they were learning in situations occurring outside of the classroom.Nicholas Jason Hangca Page 12 of 15 Academic Writing Sample from “Facilitating Independent Study Projects in the Classroom” front of his mission doors was a cross his parents had retrieved in Mexico for him to use (See Appendix I). a mini-tornado struck our school. or sister. I know my students will remember making their missions in fourth grade. Harold chose to end his picture book with a caveat about being prepared for tornadoes to come because they can happen anywhere. One such incident occurred during the time my students were working on their survival picture books. His informational picture book on tornadoes turned into his personal account about tornadoes as he wrote. used their newfound knowledge to assist them with completing their picture book. all of my students went back and connected what they saw to their projects. brother. Harold chose to write about this experience to build on what he had personally seen. . He also included a section on how to be safe when tornadoes strike. “The wind was pushing the trees then my lunch [fell] to the ground…all of the dust and [branches] and the leaves” (See Appendix J). I saw so much excitement in many of my students’ faces the day they came to school bringing their projects with their mom. Sixteen of my students chose to research tornadoes for their picture books.
and minimal knowledge acquired from their textbooks. and I felt like they were destined for disaster if something did not change. claiming missions are places “[Indians] lived” and “used their [tools]” that did “not have clocks so they used bells” (See Appendix K). One research question my students had to answer about their mission asked. “What is the mission used for today?” (See Appendix L). When my students responded to the research questions. my students were well-equipped to answer questions . field-trip experience. or visiting a mission.Nicholas Jason Hangca Page 13 of 15 Academic Writing Sample from “Facilitating Independent Study Projects in the Classroom” The majority of my students had an opportunity to visit Mission San Fernando Rey de España. My students also provided unique answers as to how to find out information about missions: “looking at the internet. They had a homework assignment the night after the field trip asking students to share the knowledge they gained from going to the mission.” After having been to a mission. looking through my flipbook. they could access the information they needed from multiple locations: internet print-outs. We had been studying the California Missions the previous week. going to the library. but by the end of that time. We were about to embark on the next two projects relating to missions.” Students were able to apply their experience to what they were finding out about their own mission. My students illustrated the immediate effects of visiting a mission in their homework. I was unsure if this knowledge would transfer to their mission projects. my students were unable to define what a mission was. Most of my students were able to answer the question. because they vividly remembered when we stepped foot inside of Mission San Fernando’s church and saw firsthand what this one mission was used for now: “They use the mission as a church [now]…and people come and visit. The students who went on the field trip were able to expand their knowledge base on the subject of missions.
Providing students with unplanned and planned opportunities to actually experience what they are learning about is an invaluable tool to increase their competency in a subject area. until I was midway through the implementation of the survival picture books. and the students are now in charge of getting the work done. as Collins et. they transcended the roles of novices to become experts. and after researching their mission for two weeks. Implications for Teaching Making Dangerous Assumptions Making the jump from providing a class with whole-class instruction to independent study projects is no easy task. However. IV. described (1991). Al. and I had no idea how much. one might think the teacher’s job is simply to place the work in the students’ laps. Deceptively. . then they can move on to more complicated tasks. In order to give students independent work of any type. this is a very dangerous assumption to make. with a relatively uncomplicated (but not easy!) assignment. Students need to feel a sense of accomplishment and competency about the independent work so one negative experience will not shape all of their next educational experiences. It is easy to assume with any kind of independent work that all of the responsibility shifts from teacher to student.Nicholas Jason Hangca Page 14 of 15 Academic Writing Sample from “Facilitating Independent Study Projects in the Classroom” about their missions. they first need to be taught how to work independently and have the structures available to complete it on their own. Once they master the skills necessary for independent work. Teachers need to make expectations and guidelines clear as well as provide all the necessary resources to students. Facilitating independent study projects involves a great deal of planning. My students added personal experience to their knowledge base for each project they accomplished in my class and its effects were measurable and easily seen as shown in the examples above. It is a big shift for students and for a teacher as well.
If there are possibilities to allow students to experience something they are learning about first-hand. then definitely plan for it. because they did not have an opportunity for this kind of involvement until the end of the year. students need to feel accomplished by actually participating in an event geared toward greater comprehension of a subject. because it will not.Nicholas Jason Hangca Page 15 of 15 Academic Writing Sample from “Facilitating Independent Study Projects in the Classroom” The complicated nature of the picture books. A teacher cannot wing it and then hope and pray it will all come together in the end. juggling two topics with two separate yet distinct writing styles. These are the necessary actions a teacher must take to have successful projects. My students were able to shine and show off their knowledge to their parents on the mission projects. Forging Connections to Lives Allowing students to make connections to their own lives greatly assisted my students with their independent study projects and helps students with any classroom work. Because they were internet research reports. In order to fill our classrooms with experts and not only novices. . One way to facilitate this kind of investment is to get parents and other family members involved. I should have involved parents on class assignments from the beginning of the year. Students need to feel invested in what they are learning. every website had to be checked for content to insure the research questions could be answered with that website. warranted planning out each topic.
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